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Here’s how most dentists track the results of their advertising. They ask the receptionist, “How’s that ad campaign going?” And she will say one of two things: “It’s great — got a new patient yesterday.” Or, “It stinks — nothing but losers and shoppers.” And based on that response, the dentist makes a decision to continue or abandon the advertising.

Unfortunately, this decision is being made based on anecdotes, not facts. These questions generate a response that is more reflective of the mood of your front desk person at that moment than on actual results. Or they are based on the most recent patient that either came in or “no-showed.” Anecdotes are not statistics. You need to track your results to know what’s working.

Tracking is done with your software. But it starts with your staff. They have to input where every single patient comes from, whether it was from an ad, your website, a walk-in, or from another patient. This last one is critical, and you’ll understand why when I explain what your reports should tell you.

When you have the proper data in your software, look at three things: First, what is the total number of patients who came from each source? (Unless you have an enormous ad budget, then word of mouth should always come in first.) Do this monthly, quarterly and annually. Next, calculate the cost per patient for each source. Third, look at the production for each source. Not just in the month that the patient came in, but over time. The true value of a patient is what they spend in the next five years, not in the first visit.

The final step is to track the production for patients who came from other patients — and track that back to the ad source. This is a trickier report, but most software can do it. This will tell you truly what is working and what isn’t. You very often will get a patient through advertising who didn’t spend very much, but their relative or friend came in and did a full-mouth restoration. You don’t want to stop advertising that paid for itself through secondary referrals.

This is my final point: In dentistry it’s hard to track the return on investment (ROI) because of the time lag in spending and the potential for word-of-mouth patients. So my rule of thumb is, if you get one case that pays for the whole ad campaign, stick with it, because the rest is gravy.

In short, the only way to know your ROI on any advertising is tracking. Otherwise you are just guessing. The data should be right there. Use it to guide your choices, and you’ll be much more efficient with your ad dollars.

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